The first verse of Parashat B’har (meaning, "In Mount…") serves to remind us that YHVH’s words to the Children of Yisrael, via Moshe, were spoken in Mount Sinai.
The opening of the Parasha focuses on the seventh year suspension of all soil cultivation (known as “Shmita,” whose root sh.m.t is mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 23:11. See Heb. Insights into Parashat Mishpatim - Ex. 21-24). In spite of this edict regarding work cessation, it is stated, "the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food" (25:6). This declaration contains the familiar and principal thought, similar to the one that accompanies the weekly Shabbat, that YHVH is the Provider and thus the members of the community are afforded an opportunity to exercise faith throughout that year. In fact, contrary to human logic, this very rest will result in abundance
Secondly, every member of the community, as well as the livestock, is equally promised provision for that time period (25: 6, 7). Again, not unlike the weekly Shabbat, the benefits of YHVH's year of land-rest apply to one and all without regard to status and origin. However, this “Shabbat of Shabbats” (v. 4) year, together with the 50th year Jubilee, the "yovel" to which the rest of this Parasha is dedicated - apply only in the
. Land of Yisrael
In 25:3 we read: "You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and shall gather its produce". "Produce" or "provender" is “t'vua”, of the root b.o. (vet/bet, vav, alef), meaning “to come, come in or go in", but in another conjugation it is “to bring”. Thus, the term "produce" conveys the idea of that which does not result merely from man's productivity or effort, but rather that which "comes" or is "brought" to him from an outside source.
As already mentioned, following YHVH's instructions guarantees that “…you shall live on the land securely. And the land shall give its fruit, and you shall eat to satisfaction; and you shall dwell securely on it" (25:18, 19). To this promise there will be an extra and supernatural blessing added: "I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year. And it shall produce the increase for three years; and you shall sow the eighth year, and shall eat of the old crop until the ninth year, until the coming [bo] in of its produce [t'vua]; you shall eat of the old" (21-22, italics added). Here again we see the connection between “produce” and the verb "to come" (remember, both originate in the same root).
The un-gathered harvest (or “after growth”) is called “that which grows of itself” – “safee’ach”, of the root s.f.ch (samech, pey/fey, chet), literally “adding, attaching, joining” (25:5, 11). In light of verse 25:23, where the addressees (the Yisraelites) are called “strangers [gerim] and sojourners”, it is interesting to note how the verb s.p/f.ch is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 14:1: “For YHVH will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose
and settle them in their own land. The strangers (gerim) will be joined
[nisfe’chu] with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob”
(Italics added). Israel
"Your unkempt grapes" (25: 5, 11) are termed here “ee'nvey (“grapes of”) nezir'cha”. This expression is rooted in the word “nazir” (Nazarite), whose restrictive vows include abstention from wine drinking or grape eating. Why are these grapes qualified by the term “nazir”? The connection is thought to be the Nazarite's hair, which was to be left uncut and unkempt, much like these grape vines. This is reinforced by the first part of verse 5 ("that which grows of itself", alluding to unkemptness).
As mentioned, the second part of the Parasha deals with the Year of the “Yovel” ("jubilee", which is a direct derivative of “yovel”). The primary meaning of yovel is thought to be the word for “horned animal” or for the "horn" itself, which was used for multiple purposes in the ancient Israelite community. Quite possibly the role of the “horned animal” (such as the bull or ox), in leading solemn processions has branched off into nouns and verbs that share the root y.v/b.l (yod, bet/vet, lamed) and are therefore connected to “leading”. The verb “hovel” is to "lead", thus forming the noun for "stream" which is “yuval”, and for the "produce of the soil" – “y'vul” (‘issuing or proceeding out of the ground’). Another interesting derivative of this root is “tevel”, meaning "world". This renders the world and its elements (e.g. streams and produce) as mere ‘issues’, or results that proceed (or ‘are led’) from that which has originally formed or produced them, but which exists outside of them. Notice the conceptual (and etymological) similarity to our former observation of the term "provender" - t'vua. “The earth is YHVH’s, and the fullness of it; the world (“tevel”), and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1), affirms this point.
Aside from letting the land lie fallow during the year of the “yovel”, that year was also to be “sanctified” (“vekidashtem”) for the purpose of "proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants…" (25:10). "
" is “dror”, which
is the same word for the bird known as "swallow" (e.g. Pr.
26:2), thus lending a graphic rendition to this term. The yovel year signifies and stipulates that
all property, or its calculated value in another form, is to be returned to its
original owner. “But above all the human benefits attached to the yovel, there
is a greater significance to its proclamation; a significance that at the same
time also forms a ‘Divine paradox’ so typical of Hebraic logic. In 25:23 we read: “And the land shall not be
sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are aliens and tenants with
Me". "Perpetuity" here is “tzmi'toot”, stemming
from the root tz.m.t (tzadi, mem, tav) which is to “end, put an end
to something" or “freeze assets”.
Thus, reverting property to its original owner demonstrates the fact
that it actually belongs to… YHVH, as we just learned from the above-cited
Psalm. And as much as the Torah stresses
ownership rights, it also reminds us, almost in the same breath, who the real
Owner is and that “we have no permanent city here, but we seek the one to
come" (Hebrews 13:14). Liberty
Another aspect of the yovel is redemption, “geula”, whose primary meaning is "kin" (denoted by “go’el”). It is the next-of-kin's duty to buy back that which a member of the family has lost - or perhaps even the family member himself, if he had been conscripted to slavery. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he is to be released on the yovel, “because they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the
(25:42 italics added). This verse is set in a context of the release of (other)
slaves (25:44ff). Biblical Hebrew for "slave" and "servant"
is one and the same - e'ved - from the root e.v.d (ayin, vet/bet,
dalet), meaning "work" or "labor" (and also
rendering service to, or worship of, YHVH). land of Egypt
Proper treatment of one's fellow citizen, defined as "brother", prohibits charging usury or interest (ref. 25:36,37). The two words used are “neshech” and “marbit”. The root of neshech (n.sh.ch, noon, sheen, chaf) is also the root for the verb “to bite". "Those who bite" (e.g. Habbakuk 2:7) are therefore the oppressors and creditors. “Marbit” is from the root r.v/b.a (resh, vet/bet) which literally means "much, many, to add, to make greater, to increase". Hence “marbit” is a "monetary increment".
As part of taking care of one’s “brother”, if he has lost his assets and was sold to “a stranger who sojourns with you, or to a member of the stranger’s family” (25:47 literal translation), the addressee of this injunction is obliged to redeem the one sold. As to the “member of the stranger’s family”, here he is called “eker”, which is a most unusual term. The root a.k.r (ayin, kof, resh) basically means “to uproot”, and thus a “barren woman” is “akara”. But since this word can also mean a “shoot”, making the one plucked out from the parent plant also transplantable – albeit in different soil. Further, should misfortune be the lot of a native Israelite, he too would feel “plucked out” and “uprooted,” and hence this term may also be applied to, or at least infer to the latter. Selling one’s services this Israelite is termed “sachir” – a hired person, “servant” (as some of your translations would have it), servant not appearing in the original text (25:40, 50, 53).
Aside from instructions on to how to calculate the redemption payment (25:50-53), specifics are also given as to the possible next of kin who is eligible to redeem (vs. 48, 49) the one who has “become poor” (“mooch”, root of m.oo.ch – mem, vav, kaf – impoverish, become low). Having once been others’ servants/slaves, the sons of Yisrael are now the servants/slaves of the One who redeemed them from their lowly state (ref. 25:55), hence YHVH requires that redemption be continually operative in accordance with the measures that He is providing for His people.
The topic of the important place accorded to the Land, which we examined in Parashat B’har with its varied ramifications, continues in Parashat B’chu’kotai ("In My Statutes"), as seen in 26:3-13. Keeping YHVH's statutes is destined to be reflected in the natural conditions of the
. The correlation will be seen in the abundance
of rain (and therefore of crops), the removal of dangerous carnivores,
demographic expansion, abundance and prosperity. The other benefits resulting from
faithfulness to YHVH and His Word will be peaceful conditions prevailing in the
Land and its surroundings, the ability to defeat the enemy, and primarily the
fulfillment of His promise to instate His Mishkan in the midst of His people,
and to always walk among them (ref. 26:11, 12). Land of Yisrael
In 26:5 we read, “…and your threshing shall reach [or overtake] the vintage, and the vintage shall reach [or overtake] the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread to satisfaction, and live in your land securely”. This is especially pertinent in light of Parashat B’har’s sh’mita-year promise: “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 25:21 italics added). In a prophecy pertaining to a latter day, the prophet Amos echoes this “overtaking”: "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who draws along seed" (9:13). Moreover, 26:10: "And you shall eat very old provision, and clear away the old because of the new", reminds us of 25:22 (in the previous Parasha): “And [you] shall eat of the old crop… until the coming in of its crop; you shall eat of the old". In other words, not only will there be a long and lasting overabundance which will remain fresh and usable for the entire time period, but even before it is fully consumed there will be a fresh crop!
Having examined above, in Parashat B’har, one of the words for "interest" - “marbit”, we will now take a look at another word that shares the same root - “r’vava” (which we also encountered in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah in Gen. 24:60). In 26:8 we read, "…and one hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand (“r’vava”)…" (emphasis added).
These promises are sealed with the familiar: "I am YHVH your Elohim, who has brought you out of the land of the Egyptians, from being their slaves”. It then continues: “And I will break the bars of your yoke, and I will make you walk upright" (26:13). "Walking upright" is “ko'memi'yoot”, of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to “rise or get up". In Parashot Va'ye'tze (Gen. 28:10-32:2) and Vayishlach (Gen. 32:3-Ch. 36) we noticed the significance of Ya'acov's "rising up", as well as that of the special "place" - ma'kom (of the same root) - where he experienced some of his ‘rising’. Here the sons of this Patriarch are promised "an upright walk", providing they do so in Elohim's chosen paths. Additionally, in 26:37 we encounter the word “t’kuma”, translated "power to stand" (“you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”), with its more modern usage being "resurrection" and "recovery."
But if Yisrael chooses to “..despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break [invalidate] My covenant” (26:15 italics added), a long list of punitive measures follow. “Abhor” here is “tig’al” (root g.a.l gimmel, ayin, lamed), being the first time this word is mentioned (26:11). Some may recognize the similarity of this verb to “ga’al” – redeem (gimmel, alef, lamed), a minor change in spelling and sound (ayin versus alef), and yet a world of difference! Making void the covenant signifies removing one’s self from under the protective umbrella of redemption, rendering it no longer operational. Further in verse 18 we read: “if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins”. The chastisement of “seven times over” is also mentioned in verses 21, 24 and 28. As part of YHVH’s covenant with His people, provision for national atonement for sin was made available by the high priest sprinkling seven times the blood of a goat on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (ref. Lev. 16:14). Hence, nullifying the covenant would result in a similarly seven-fold outcome.
Thus YHVH will not "make them walk uprightly" (as we saw above), but instead will inflict upon them a series of blows. Moreover, He will also "walk contrary" to them (ref. 26:24).The expression "walking contrary" is used nowhere else except in this chapter, where it appears… seven times! The word used for "contrary" – keri - probably stems from the root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), meaning "to happen". Rashi comments on this: “Our rabbis said: ‘This word signifies irregularity, by chance, something that happens only occasionally. Thus [meaning], 'if you will follow the commandments irregularly…’ Menahem explains it as an expression for refraining… ‘refrain (hoker) your foot from your neighbor's house’ (Prov. 25:17), or of a refraining (va'yikar) spirit…."1. “Keri”, therefore, may refer to an avoidance of performing YHVH’s Word, along with a casual and nonchalant attitude which was also condemned by Yeshua in Revelation 3:15,16, where we read: "I wish you were cold or hot… So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot I will spew you out of my mouth" (italics added), leading us to the curse of eventually being spewed out of the Land (26:32 – 39, and also Lev. 20:22). Thus the “contrary walk” incurs a “seven-fold chastisement”.
The list of curses (26:14-46) is somewhat parallel to the list of the blessings, albeit much longer. It is divided up into several progressive categories: diseases, defeat, drought, carnivorous animals, and a combination of wars, plagues and famines, which will cause parents to consume their own children's flesh. Finally, after the destruction of the idols and pagan images, there will be a dispersion of the People of Yisrael among the nations. Under these conditions, and once the Land has been emptied of its inhabitants, its Shabbats will be repaid (as the Israelites would not keep the Sabbatical years that we read about in the last Parasha). These Shabbats will "appease" the land, with the word used here being “tirtzeh” (of the root “ratzon” - “will” or “acceptance”). Thus, the land "will be appeased" (v. 34, 35) and “accept” its inhabitants. Accordingly, the "year of acceptance" is “sh'nat ratzon” (Is. 61:2). The same word for “acceptance” appeared in Parashat Emor, where we read in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:11 about the Omer: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted [lirtzon'chem] for you…" (italics added). As we saw above, negligence to observe the Shmita on the seventh year, is what makes the figure ”seven” stand out, relative to sin and the penalties subsequently incurred. The usage of seven here reminds us of some of the commands which the Israelites will be transgressing, commands that are related to the figure seven, such as the seventh day of the week, the seventh year of rest, and the seven years multiplied by seven leading to the Jubilee, the 50th year of release of all debts and property.
The last part of Parashat B’chu’kotai deals with laws concerning vows of dedication to YHVH (27:2-29), while the final verses pertain to tithes. Verse 2 introduces the subject of the vows by not merely stating “if a man/person takes a vow…” (literal translation), but curiously qualifies the vow by the verb “yaflee”, rooted in “pele” - y.p/f.a (yod, pey/fey, alef), which means “wonder, wonderful”, such as in “Wonderful Counselor” (Is.9:6). This verb renders these vows as very special. The verse continues to say (regarding those who were to be subject of the vows): “souls according to your evaluation to YHVH”. In other words, these are vows concerning the dedication of souls to YHVH whose ‘worth’ is determined by the person taking the vow. In so doing he has to be aware of the awesomeness of his responsibility, hence the unusual usage of the verb “yaflee” above. The “evaluation” (“erech” - ayin, resh, chaf) of souls continues all the way through verse 8, having been defined at the very beginning by the usage of “pele”, which denotes the enormity of the task.
As mentioned, verses 32-33 (ch. 27) deal with tithes: “And all the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, all that passes under the rod, a tenth shall be holy to YHVH. He shall not search whether it is good or bad; neither shall he change it…” (italics added). Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 20:37-38 echoes the terms we encounter here, applying them to YHVH’s sheep and to the land of their inheritance: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who sin against Me. I will bring them out from the land where they reside, and they shall not enter into the
(italics added). In the above Vayikra
(Leviticus) text, we encountered, “He shall not search (also meaning “to
inspect”)” – “lo ye’vaker” (v.
33). Y’chezkel 34:12 reiterates this
phrase (as if in dialog with the present text), though this time with a
positive intent, and so we read: “For so says Adonai YHVH: Behold, I Myself
will search for My sheep and seek them out – uvikarteem, as the
seeking out – kevakarat – of the shepherd of his flock in the day that
he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out – a’vaker -
My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered
…” (literal translation, italics added). land of Israel
The final verse, which is similar to the opening verse of Parashat B’har (referring to Mount Sinai) seals off the Parasha, and indeed the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with the words: "These are the statutes which YHVH made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (v. 34 italics added).
1] New Studies in Vayikra, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc.,
Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:
The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers,
1979. Peabody, Mass.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980
Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use
The root bet, vav, alef (b.o), as we noted above, is used in both the verb “to come” and “to bring”, while “lead” is of a similar root (a cognate) yod, bet, lamed (y.b.l). “Usury” in biblical Hebrew is very graphically connected to a dog’s (“kelev”) bite (“neshech” - “ne’shicha”), and indeed in Modern Hebrew its usage is related only to this type of action by an animal.
Emphasis on the elements and the land and its potential blessings (of produce) in response to obedience, yields words such “eretz” – land, earth, ground – “geshem” – rain – and “chadash” and “yashan” – new (produce) and old (produce). By the way, “yashan” for “old” does not pertain to living beings, whether human or animals. “Revava”, “ten thousand”, which we encountered above, stems, as we noted, from the much used root r.v. (“rav” meaning “much” and “great), with “harbeh” – many – being very common in modern speech. In examining the rare term “keri” we encountered the verb “to happen” - “koreh” (with the infinitive being “li’krot”), which does not mean “to read” in spite of the similar sound (but different spelling). We will complete this week’s list with a “visit”.
If Muhammad will not come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad
Eem Muchamad lo yavo el ha’har, ha’har yavo el Muchamad
What will the day bring?
Ma ya’vee ha’yom? (literally, what will bring this day?)
If he leads the dog, the dog does not bite
Eem hu movil et ha’ke’lev, ha’ke’lev lo noshech
These dogs bite
K’lavim elu nosh’chim (literally, dogs these bite)
Much rain fell on the ground
Harbeh geshem yarad al ha’aretz
What’s new? What’s happening?
Ma chadash? Ma koreh?
The seeds (are) not new, they are old
Haz’ra’eem lo chadashim, hem ye’sha’nim
I am visiting
Ani me’vaker be’Yisrael (masculine)
Ani me’va’keret be’Yisrael (feminine)
She is visiting Israel
Hee me’va’keret be’Yisrael
He is visiting Israel
Hu me’va’ker be’Yisrael